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Complete Eats Connects Philly Kids to School Lunches—Even When School Is Out

Emergency Department is a great place to connect patients with food resources

The Challenge: Summer is a time of hunger

  • 21.5 million low-income children nationwide receive free or reduced price meals during the school year, including nearly 660,000 in Pennsylvania.
  • During the summer, many of these children go hungry. In Pennsylvania, only one in ten eligible children continue to get free or reduced price meals through the USDA Summer Food Service Program.
  • This disconnect persists even though Philadelphia alone has 1,000 places, such as day care centers, where kids can get free or reduced-price lunches through the program.

The Goal:

Test whether the pediatric Emergency Department (ED) at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP) can help connect families in need with affordable summer lunches for their children.

The Strategy:

Conduct a 6.5-week pilot (10 a.m. through 2 p.m. daily, July 10 through August 25, 2017) to assess the feasibility, acceptability (for patients and families), and effectiveness in:

  • Distributing lunches via the Summer Food Service Program
  • Encouraging families to connect with helpful community resources after their ED visits

The Process in the ED:

  • Bedside nurse confirms whether patient is medically allowed to eat
  • Nurse distributes meal ticket
  • CHOP Career-Path intern
    • Delivers lunch to patient and sibling(s)—along with program materials describing the Summer Food Service Program and where in their communities families can continue to get lunches
    • Asks parents to complete surveys about the experience, and whether they will continue to use the Summer Food Service Program in the future

The Results:

  • 367 meals distributed
  • 87 parents completed the survey
    • 48 percent had two or more children in the ED (ages ranged from 2–18 years old)
    • 92 percent felt comfortable with the pilot
    • 88 percent felt that hospital is a good location for the Summer Food Service Program
    • 91 percent felt the process was easy
  • CHOP Career-Path interns gained valuable experience and confidence in a work setting while helping others. CHOP Career-Path is a job-training program for young adults with complex medical needs or learning disabilities.

Key Takeaways:

The ED is a great place to connect patients with food resources! Many parents (63% of those surveyed) were unaware of the Summer Food Service Program until they learned about it in the CHOP ED. After their ED visit, most of these parents:

  • Plan to use the program again (79%)
  • Feel confident (73%) that they’ll be able to find a program site in their community

It takes a village to feed a village!

CHOP clinicians Danielle Cullen, MD, MPH, and Morgan Mirth, MSN, CPNP-PC, collaborated with many internal and external partners to design, implement, and assess the Complete Eats pilot. Key partners included:

  • Archdiocese of Philadelphia (food sponsorship and regulation)
  • ED clinical staff (management)
  • CHOP Career-Path interns (implementation)
  • Security, social work, volunteer services, and other CHOP departments (implementation)

Danielle Cullen, MD, MPH, is a Pediatric Emergency Medicine Fellow at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. Her research focuses on socioeconomic health disparities, in particular childhood food insecurity. She completed her MPH at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, and her General Pediatrics training at the Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh of UPMC.

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